Thursday, 10 September 2015

Fig Leaf Ice Cream

Brown Turkey Fig and fig leaves

The French and Italian figs which are coming to market are particularly good this year.  Here in the UK, unless you have a greenhouse or a very sheltered spot for your tree, fig growing can be a dispiriting activity for gardeners.  Varieties 'Brown Turkey', 'Brunswick' and 'Violetta' are the most reliable to try your hand at.  Even if fruiting is a hit and miss affair, they are beautiful to look at.  Their large sculptural, deeply lobed, leaves are even more beautiful on the underside with their pronounced veining.  So to be able to use these leaves in the kitchen makes up for the shyness in fruiting.

So many people have asked me for a recipe for fig leaf ice cream that I thought I ought to post one. It's based on a simple vanilla custard but even that, I realise, is not written in stone.  Some heat milk and cream, some add the cream at the end.  There is also more than one way to infuse a fig leaf.  I've seen at least one recipe where the leaves are submerged in the finished custard for a time before churning.  I like to immerse the leaves in the liquid that has been brought to a bare simmer.  As the mixture cools the leaves release their perfume just enough to add a distinctive fig flavour and, for me, coconut note to the finished ice cream.  You could, of course, make a fig ice cream but this is a frugal recipe that captures the particular fragrance of the fig.

Fig leaves infusing

I've made blackcurrant leaf ice cream in the same way and I have Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices to thank for introducing me to the idea of fruit leaf ice creams.  She often infuses the leaves of fruit trees (after checking the leaves are not poisonous), sometimes she uses herbs like lemon verbena or thyme, to increase the depth of flavour or add another note to a fruit ice cream.  I'm not sure if Kitty uses exactly the same method as me for her Fig Leaf ice cream.  If she ever produces a book I'll be the first in line to get my hands on it.  In the meantime, I'm doing what feels right.

Blackberries and plums have been amongst my allotment hauls over the past few weeks and, last week, there were a few fig leaves too along with a single precious fig from a kind neighbour.  The fig we ate immediately, of course!  The fig leaf ice cream I made paired beautifully with a warm compote of blackberries and was delicious with a slice of just-out-of-the-oven plum pie.

Hot plum pie and cold fig leaf ice cream

Here's my ice cream recipe:

Fig Leaf Ice Cream
(Serves 8)

2-3 small-medium fig leaves, washed and dried
350ml whole milk
250ml whipping cream (UK)/heavy cream (USA)
1 vanilla pod, split
3 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
Pinch salt

Heat the milk, cream and vanilla pod (scrape out the seeds and add) until it's barely simmering.  Take off the heat, add the fig leaves and submerge them in the liquid.  Cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
Remove the fig leaves from the pan and bring the mixture back to barely a simmer
Meanwhile, whisk the yolks, sugar and salt together until thoroughly combined.
Pour the contents of the pan over the egg yolk mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously.
Return the mixture to the pan and heat gently, stirring, until the temperature reaches 85C.
Plunge the pan into an ice bath, stir from time to time over a period of 30 minutes to cool the custard as quickly as possible.  Refrigerate, preferably overnight but for at least 4 hours.
Remove the vanilla pod, whizz with an immersion blender or whisk to re-emulsify, then churn.